Early Spring Trip in KISS to Hocking Hills State Park
March 12, 2021: Backroads through Amish country and arrival at Hocking Hills State Park
Early Friday morning, we depart Cleveland in KISS (Keep It Simple and Serene), an extended 2020 Sprinter van, configured over a year ago, but recently completed as a spec van at Advanced RV in Willoughby, Ohio. Since Mike and I are now two weeks out from our second COVID vaccine jab, we are at last feeling freer to travel. We stop at Whole Foods for provisions and head south on one of our first sunny, warm days of spring. We exit Rt. 77 to follow scenic route 39 west into Holmes County, home to many Ohio Amish communities. At Millersburg, we choose scenic route 83 south, taking us over hills, creeks and fields still brown from winter and through former canal and railroad towns, continuing on backroads around Zanesville to Somerset. Here, we stop, taking our own lunch to one of the picnic tables at what feels a little European town square. In the center is a bronze statue of a horse and rider in motion, with the horse rearing and the small rider exuberantly swinging his right arm out. This is Philip Sheridan (“Little Phil”), a Union General in the Civil War, who grew up here.
KISS handles great on the winding, hilly backroads. We take Rt. 664 south and stop to hike at Boch Hollow State Nature Preserve, North Trailhead, where we cross a newly built bridge and start climbing a steep trail into the dense woods. We meet two women hikers, who tell us this new trail is their favorite hiking spot in the area, little used, but we should get to Hocking Hills now to hike Old Man’s Cave, the most popular trail, before the weekend crowds arrive.
About 3:30pm, we arrive at Hocking Hills campground, put our levelers down on the sloped camping site and hike about a half mile down the hill to “A Frame Bridge,” where we cross the deep gorge and turn up to the head of Old Man’s Cave trail at the Upper Falls We are amazed at the variety of stone layers in this gorge, the huge moss covered boulders and the frequent, gushing waterfalls. This is central Ohio? We go beyond Old Man’s Cave, past the Lower Falls to Broken Rock Falls, where another hiker takes our picture and Mike does a short rock climb up to a deep cave. (TWO PICTURES) All in all, we get a “moderate” 5 miles in before sunset. Camping next to us is a family from Michigan, trying out their new pop up camping trailer. The older kids ride scooters and play street hockey on the main drive. We have an easy dinner at the picnic table and get to bed early.
March 13, 2021: Old Man’s Cave to Cedar Falls to Ash Cave
Bright sunrise, but only 30 degrees. Campground covered in frost. Out of an opening at the top of a small teepee tent near us, smoke from a tiny wood stove spews out. With water and Kind bars in Mike’s backpack, we are on the trail by 8:30am, to hike Old Man’s Cave to Cedar Falls to Ash Cave, a “difficult” 12 mile round trip. The gorges, waterfalls, rocks, and ledges are lush and the rock steps and bridges, built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corp, are fairly well-maintained. Our knee high Boggs boots with ice cleats are perfect for the wet trails, ice patches and many stream crossings. Alone on the trail at first, by mid morning, we are joined by many other hikers, mostly young and all friendly.
By 4:00pm, after hiking 15 miles, we are back at our campsite, tired and hungry. We have beers, some snacks and quickly heat up dinner from home. Somehow, we find the strength for a short stroll in the pleasant campground, now almost full. We talk with a couple in a Jeep with a popup tent on top. After raving about it for a while, this middle aged, large couple, admit that climbing the ladder is hard on their knees. By 8:30pm, we are ready for bed, glad to “spring” the clocks ahead to a less embarrassing bedtime.
March 14, 2021: Conkles Hollow
Another frosty, bright morning. We leave the campground by 8:30am, and drive a few miles to Conkles Hollow State Nature Preserve, where we hike the 1 mile loop within the gorge and then the 2.5 miles on the rim. Here is another lush area with views of waterfalls, gorges, and moss-covered rocks and ledges. We are the only hikers there until the return trip within the gorge when we meet a young couple from Cleveland, where the guy tends the elephants at the Cleveland Zoo. At the Coffee Emporium on Rt. 664 near Logan, I wait in line for about a half hour, while Mike circles the parking lot to get a spot. After lattes and a panini, we head northeast on back roads to scenic route 13 north to Zanesville. Here, we decide to take interstates to get home by mid afternoon, having discovered the treasure of Hocking Hills State Park.